Friday, November 30, 2012

"CLOUD ATLAS" (2012) Review

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"CLOUD ATLAS" (2012) Review

The year 2004 saw the publication of author David Mitchell's science-fiction novel called "Cloud Atlas". Consisting of six different stories with subtle connections, the novel won two literary awards and was nominated for a series of other awards, including the 2004 Booker Prize. But when the Wachowskis (Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer decided to make a film adaptation of the novel, the trio had trouble finding financial backing.

Eventually, Grant Hill and Stefan Arndt agreed to co-produce the film and Warner Brothers Studios agreed to release it. The screenplay written by the Wachowskis and Tykwer closely followed Mitchell's novel, with the exception of a few changes. As stated ealier, the movie consisted of the following six stories:

1849: American lawyer Adam Ewing arrives at the Chatham Islands in the Pacific, to make a business arrangement on behalf of his wealthy father-in-law, now living in San Francisco. His father-in-law is involved in a agriculture business that involves the use of Moriori slaves. After witnessing the whipping of a slave named Autua, Ewing and a Dr. Henry Goose return to San Francisco, via clipper ship. During the voyager, Ewing discovers that Autua has stowed away aboard the ship. However, he is unaware that Dr. Goose is slowly poisoning in an effort to steal the chest of gold in Ewing's possession.

1936: English musician Robert Frobisher, who is gay, is employed as an amanuensis to famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs, allowing Frobisher the time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet". Ayrs wishes to take credit for the piece, and threatens to expose Frobisher's homosexual background to the authorities if he does not comply.

1973: San Francisco journalist Luisa Rey meets by chance, Frobisher's former lover Rufus Sixsmith, in a stalled elevator. A nuclear physicist, Sixsmith tips her off to a conspiracy regarding the safety of a new nuclear reactor, but is killed by a hitman named Bill Smoke before he can give her proof. Another employee at the power plant named Isaac Sachs becomes attracted to Luisa, eventually gives her the information, but is killed by Smoke. Luisa has find a way to expose Sixsmith and Sachs's employer before she can be killed.

2012: British publisher Timothy Cavendish has a windfall when gangster author Dermott Hoggins, whose book he has published, infamously murders a critic and is sent to jail. When the author's associates threaten Cavendish's life to get his share of the profits, Cavendish turns to his brother Denholme for help. However, the brother tricks him into hiding out in a nursing home, where he is held against his will and treated poorly. Cavendish and a few of his fellow inmates plot to escape.

2144: A genetically-engineered clone server at a fast-food restaurant in Neo Seoul, Korea named Sonmi-451 is being interviewed before her execution. She recounts how one Hae-Joo Chang, a member of the local Resistance, helped to release her fom her life of servitude. Chang and other members of the Resistance reveal that clones like her are "recycled" into food for future clones. Sonmi-451 becomes determined to broadcast this information to world.

2321: A tribesman on the post-apocalypse Hawaiian Islands named Zachry lives a primitive life after most of humanity has died during "The Fall" and is plagued by guilt for not interfering in the murder of his brother-in-law, Adam, at the hands of the Kona Chief, leader of a tribe of vicious cannibals. A member of the last remnants of a technologically advanced civilization called the "Prescients" visits his tribe. In exchange for saving Zachry's young niece from a near fatal bite, he agrees to guide Meronym into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas, an outpost station where she is able to send a message to people who have left Earth and now live on other planets.

When I first saw the trailer for "CLOUD ATLAS", I thought it looked beautiful. My opinion of the film's visuals have not changed one bit. However, I had no desire to see the movie. I took one look at the trailer and knew it would be faux profound and self-righteous piece of claptrap that I suspect I would find confusing. A member of my family literally had to drag me to my local theater to see the movie. Recalling my disappointment in "THE MASTER", I decided that a nice long nap would help me overcome the movie's 164 minutes running time.

To my surprise, I did not fall asleep, while watching "CLOUD ATLAS". Even more surprising, I enjoyed it. Very much. I cannot explain this phenomenon. I could see that it was not the type of film that would appeal to a lot of people. The movie's technical aspects struck me as very impressive. In that regard, the Wachowskis have never disappointed, as past movies such as "THE MATRIX" and "SPEED RACER" have proven. "CLOUD ATLAS" featured some beautiful photography from cinematographers Frank Griebe and John Toll. I was especially impressed by their work in the 1973 San Francisco, 2144 Neo Seoul and 2321 Hawaiian Island segments. However, a part of me suspect that the visual effects team supervised by Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor and the special effects team were mainly responsible for the outstanding look of the segment set in 22nd century Seoul. But one also has to account for Hugh Bateup
and Uli Hanisch's production designs that beautifully re-created six different period in time, starting with the year 1849 and ending with 2321. Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud provided equally beautiful work through their costume designs - especially for the 1849, 1936, 1973 and 2144 segments. And I cannot say enough for the makeup work that allowed the cast to portray characters at different ages, cultures, genders and even race. I realize there was some controversy over the latter, but I will come to it, later.

Those who did not care for "CLOUD ATLAS" claimed that the screenplay failed to provide any connections between the six stories and the characters. Some believe that "CLOUD ATLAS" is simply about reincarnation, accepting the film's official synopsis:

"An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution."

Perhaps that is the truth. I did not bother trying to guess the movie's main theme, while I watched it. I believed I would not be successful. Instead, I simply treated all six stories as separate and enjoyed them as they unfolded. In doing so, I managed to find similar themes of truth, inspiration and freedom of tyranny without any heavy-handed narratives. I was also surprised by how the main character of each successive story was inspired somehow (many times unknowingly) by experiences of his or her predecessor. Robert Frobisher read part of a book on the life of Dr. Adam Ewing. Luisa Rey read Frobisher's letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith. And it was the latter who led her to investigate the power plant's illegal use of nuclear energy. Timothy Cavendish read a unpublished manuscript for a novel based on Luisa's investigation, which was probably written by her young neighbor. Following her escape, Sonmi-451 watched a movie about Cavendish's ordeal at the elderly home. And Zachry recalled a statuette of Sonmi-451 and saw an orison (future recording device) featuring a speech from her. By the film's final scene, I was surprised to find myself in tears. If there is nothing I love more is a movie that can take me by surprise in a positive way. And "CLOUD ATLAS" certainly achieved this.

Earlier, I had pointed out a controversy that emerged about some of the Wachowskis and Tykwer's casting decisions. Someone noticed in the movie's trailer that European actors like Jim Sturgess, James D'Arcy and Hugo Weaving portrayed Asians - namely Koreans. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) officially criticized the movie's producers for allowing non-Asians to portray Koreans in the film. They also criticized the movie for allowing cast members of African descent - Halle Berry, Keith David and David Gyasi - portray Pacific Islanders. Of course, they failed to point out that Tom Hanks, Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Bae Doona and Zhou Xun also portrayed Pacific Islanders in the 2321 segment. And it was pointed out that the movie's two Asian cast members - Bae and Zhou - also portrayed Westerners. I suppose this is a topic that will never be resolved. However, I had assumed that each actor portrayed a series of characters that possessed the same soul . . . and that was the message the filmmakers were trying to point out.


Since the major actors/actresses portrayed multiple characters in six different stories, I decided to point out the performances I really enjoyed. I was impressed by Jim Sturgess' transformation of the Adam Ewing character from a mild-mannered personality to one who had the courage to defy his father-in-law and become an abolitionist. His hilarious portrayal of the Scottish soccer fan in the 2012 segment had me in stitches. Hugo Weaving portrayed a series of villainous characters in the movie. But the two characters that really impressed me out were his performances as the murderous hit man Bill Smoke in the 1973 segment and Old Georgie, an evil manifestation of the negative aspect of Zachry's subconscious in the 2321 segment. Halle Berry's Luisa Rey proved to be one of the film's more inspirational characters. And I enjoyed how she injected a bit of sly humor in her performance. Doona Bae gave a very memorable performance as the Korean fast-food clone, Sonmi-451. And she was hilarious as the Latina woman who ended up helping Luisa Rey in the 1973 segment. Hugh Grant really impressed me in his portrayal of Denholme Cavendish, Timothy's vindictive, yet witty brother. James D'Arcy was excellent in both the 1973 segment, in which he portrayed the elderly Rufus Sixsmith and the Korean archivist that interviewed Sonmi-451. Ben Whishaw gave an excellent performance as the English composer Robert Frobisher, who found himself caught in a moral trap. And David Gyasi provided another inspirational performance in his portrayal of Autua, the Moriori slave whose bid for freedom ended up inspiring Dr. Ewing.

If I had to pick the two best performances in the movie, they came from Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent. First of all, Hanks did an excellent job in his portrayals of the Scottish hotel manager that blackmailed Frobisher into giving him the latter's waistcoat. Hanks' performance as the Hawaiian tribesman Zachry was poignant. And I found his performance as the British gangster Dermot Higgins both astonishing and hilarious. But his portrayal of the murderous Dr. Henry Goose was probably the best performance in the entire movie. Frankly, he was even more scary than any of Weaving's array of villains. Jim Broadbent portrayed two characters that really impressed me. One was his portrayal of the venemous composer Vyvyan Ayrs. Broadbent's transformation of Ayrs from an enthusiatic music lover to a vindictive blackmailer really took me by surprise. But his best performance turned out to be the funniest in the movie - that of the self-indulgent publisher Timothy Cavedish, who found himself a victim of his brother's vengeful nature.

I realize that "CLOUD ATLAS" proved to be a box office flop. Most people found the movie either too complicated or uneven to enjoy. I honestly thought I would end up sharing these views before I saw the film. I really did. But like I said, I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I heard rumors that author David Mitchell enjoyed this adaptation of his novel. And I am happy for his sake. Especially since I enjoyed it myself. Lana and Andy Wachowski, along with Tom Tykwer, really outdid themselves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sawyer's Rant in "LOST" (2.16) "The Long Con"




SAWYER'S RANT IN "LOST" (2.16) "The Long Con"

In the Season Two episode of "LOST" called (2.16) "The Long Con", Jack ransacked Sawyer's tent for some painkillers that the latter had previously taken.In response to Jack's action, Sawyer decided to pull a con job on the castaways, in order to secure control of their guns. When Sawyer finally revealed his con job to the castaways, he said the following:

"That's right, Jack. He's as stupid as you are. You were so busy worrying about each other you never even saw me coming, did you? How about you listen up because I'm only going to say this once. You took my stuff. While I was off trying to get us help -- get us rescued -- you found my stash and you took it, divvied it up -- my shaving cream, my batteries, even my beer."

Now, I understand why Sawyer was upset at Jack for going into his tent and taking that bottle of pills. Jack had no business going into his tent without permission. But his rant about the castaways dividing up his stash after he left the island on Michael's raft struck me as infantile.

Sawyer originally had no intention of returning to the island in the first place, when he left on that raft. Why on earth did he expect the other castaways to keep their hands off his belongings, when he had left them behind without any intention of using them again? Had he expect them to erect some kind of shrine in his memory? I mean . . . WTF?


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"SKYFALL" (2012) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from the 23rd James Bond movie, "SKYFALL". Directed by Sam Mendes, the movie stars Daniel Craig as James Bond:


"SKYFALL" (2012) Photo Gallery

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Monday, November 26, 2012

"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1984) Review


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"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1984) Review

Thirty-four years ago saw the publication of an international best seller about a young British Army officer during the British Raj in 19th century India. The novel's success not brought about a not-so-successful musical stage play in 2005, but also a six-part television miniseries, twenty-one years earlier.

Directed by Peter Duffell for HBO, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" tells the story of Ashton "Ash" Pelham-Martyn, the only son of prominent British botanist Hillary Pelham-Martyn and his wife in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in 1853. After his mother dies of childbirth, Ashton is mainly raised by his ayah (nurse) Sita, who is a part of his father's retinue. Cholera takes the lives of all members of the Pelham-Martyn camp some four years later, with the exception of Ash and Sita. The latter tries to deliver Ash to his mother's family in Mardan, but the uprising of the Sepoy Rebellion leads her to adopt the slightly dark-skinned Ash as her son. Both eventually take refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote. While Ash forgets about his British ancestry, he becomes the servant for Crown Prince Lalji and befriends the neglected Princess Anjuli, Master of Stables Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. Ashton eventually leaves Gulkote after learning from the dying Sita about his true ancestry. After reaching his relatives in Mardan, Ash is sent back to Great Britain to live with his Pelham-Martyn relations. Within less than a decade, he returns to India as a newly commissioned British Army. Not only does he make new acquaintances, but also renews old ones - including the Princess Anjuli.

British costume dramas have always been popular with American television and movie audiences for decades. But aside from the Jane Austen phenomenon between 1995 and 2008, there seemed to be an even bigger demand for period pieces from the U.K. during the 1980s . . . a major consequence from the popular royal wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. HBO and Peter Duffell took M.M. Kaye's 1978 bestseller and transformed it into a miniseries filled with six one-hour episodes. Aside from a few changes, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" was more or less a television hit. And in many ways, it was easy to see why.

First of all, Kaye's story about a forbidden love story between a British Army officer viewed as an outsider by most of his fellow Britons and an Indian princess with a touch of European blood (Russian) was bound to appeal to the most romantic. Add an epic trek across the Indian subcontinent (in the form of a royal wedding party), action on the North West frontier and a historical event - namely the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War - and one is faced with a costumed epic of the most romantic kind. And I am flabbergasted at how the story managed to criticize the British presence in both India and Afghanistan, and at the same time, glorify the military aspect of the British Empire. If I must be honest, M.M. Kaye not only wrote a pretty damn good story, but she and screenwriter Julian Bond did a solid job in adapting the novel for television.

Now, I said solid, not excellent. Even the most first-rate miniseries is not perfect, but I feel that "THE FAR PAVILIONS" possessed flaws that prevented it from being the superb production it could have been. The miniseries' main problem seemed to be its look. I had no problems with Robert W. Laing's production designs. His work, along with George Richardson's art direction, Jack Cardiff's superb cinematography, and Hugh Scaife's set decorations superbly brought mid-to-late 19th century British India to life. I was especially impressed by the crew's re-creation of the Rana of Bhithor's palace, the cantonments for the Corps of Guides regiment and the royal wedding procession for the Rana of Bhitor's brides - Princess Shushila and Princess Anjuli of Karidkote (formerly Gulkote). For a miniseries that cost $12 million dollars to produce, why shoot it on such poor quality film, whose color seemed to have faded over the past two or three decades? It seemed criminal that such a lush production was shot on film of bad quality.

As much as I admired Bond and Kaye's adaptation of the latter's novel, there were two aspects of their script that annoyed me. One, the screenplay skipped one of the novel's best parts - namely Ash's childhood in Gulkote. Instead, the story of his birth, early travels with Sita and his time in Gulkote were revealed in a montage that served as backdrop for the opening credits. And I was not that impressed at how the script handled Ash's early romance with a young English debutante named Belinda Harlowe. I found it rushed and unsatisfying. More importantly, the entire sequence seemed like a waste of Felicity Dean and Rupert Everett's (who played Ash's doomed rival George Garforth) time. And some of the dialogue for the romantic scenes between Ash and Juli struck me as so wince inducing that it took me a while to unclench my teeth after the scenes ended.

I had other problems with "THE FAR PAVILIONS". The casting of American actress Amy Irving as the adult Princess Anjli ("Juli") produced a "what the hell?" response from me when I first saw the miniseries. That startled feeling remained after my last viewing. Irving simply seemed miscast in the role, despite a decent performance from her and her solid chemistry with lead actor Ben Cross. Another role that failed to match with the performer was that of British military administrator, Sir Louis Cavagnari, portrayed by John Gielgud. Cavagnari was 39 years old, when he met his death at the British mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gielgud was 79 to 80 years old when he portrayed the military officer . . . naturally too old for the role. The makeup department tried to take years off the actor with hair dye and make-up. Let us just say that Amy Irving was more convincing as an Indian princess than Gielgud was as a character 40 years his junior.

Aside from my quibbles about the casting of Amy Irving and John Gielgud, I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Ben Cross did a superb job in his portrayal of the hot tempered and impatient Ashton Pelham-Martyn. Ash has always been a frustrating character for me. Although I sympathized with his feelings and beliefs, his occasional bursts of impatience and naiveté irritated me. And Cross perfectly captured all of these aspects of Ash's nature. Despite my strong belief that she was miscast, I cannot deny that Amy Irving gave a subtle and well acted performance as Princess Anjuli. But I could never accuse Omar Sharif of being miscast. He did a superb job in his portrayal of the wise and very witty horsemaster of Gulkote/Karidkote, Koda Dad. Sharif made it easy to see why Ash came to regard Koda Dad as more of a father figure than any other older male. Although I believe that Irving was miscast as Princess Anjuli, I was surprised at how impressed I was by Christopher Lee's portrayal of Anjuli's uncle, Prince Kaka-ji Rao. The Anglo-Spanish actor did an excellent job of portraying a character from a completely different race. I suspect the secret to Lee's performance was that he did not try so hard to sell the idea of him being an Indian prince. And Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the effeminate, yet manipulate and murderous courtier, Biju Ram. It seemed a pity that the miniseries did not explore Ash's childhood. Audiences would have been able to enjoy more of Jaffrey's performance.

Sneh Gupta was excellent as childishly imperious and self-absorbed Princess Shushila, Juli's younger sister. She did a first-rate job of transforming Shushila from a sympathetic character to a childishly imperious villainess. Robert Hardy gave a solid performance as the Commandant of the Guides. Benedict Taylor was charming and outgoing as Ash's only military friend, Walter "Wally" Hamilton. I really do not know how to describe Rosanno Brazzi's performance as the Rana of Bhithor. I feel that too much makeup made it difficult for me to get a grip on his character. I was surprised to see Art Malik as Koda Dad's son, Zarin. But his role did not seem big enough to produce a comment from me. Rupert Everett was excellent as George Garforth, the British civil servant with a secret to hide. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the miniseries' portrayal of the story line in which he played a part.

I realize that "THE FAR PAVILIONS" has a good number of strikes against it. But its virtues outweighed its flaws. And in the end, it proved to be an entertaining miniseries, thanks to the lush production and the first-rate cast led by Ben Cross.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Double Enmity" (R) - Chapter 8

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"DOUBLE ENMITY"

Chapter 8

A barely patient warlock sat inside her rental car, across the street from the police station. Nearly twenty minutes had passed before the daemon teleported back inside the car. "Well?" she demanded?

Klymus heaved a sigh. "Sorry. I couldn't get her purse."

"Why not?" Olivia paused. "Did the other Olivia remain at her desk?"

According to Klymus, Olivia's counterpart had left her desk for several minutes. "I was able to search all of the drawers . . . except one. It was locked. I think she may have placed a spell on it."

Olivia frowned. "Why would she do that?"

"How would I know?" Klymus retorted. "You should know. You're . . . her."

A thought came to Olivia. "Wait a minute. I can think of a reason why she would cast a spell on her lock. She must have something hidden inside that particular drawer. Something valuable. Which is what I always do when I have something valuable on hand, when I'm at work."

Klymus demanded, "If you've done it before, what's the counter spell?"

A sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Forget it. The other Olivia is probably at her desk by now." She switched on the car's engine and drove away.

Two blocks later, Klymus demanded, "So, that's it? You're just going to give up like that?"

"I'm going to take a step back, rest and try to think of another way to get my hands on that staff," Olivia coolly replied. She stopped the car at an intersection. "Why are you so interested in me getting that staff?"

"I've been ordered to help you."

Olivia gave the daemon a long and penetrating stare. "And why is that? Why is Artemus so willing to help me, now that I know where the other Olivia lives?"

Instead of giving her an answer, Klymus merely squirmed in silence. Then he glanced at the window shield and said, "Green light."

Olivia continued to drive. Something about the daemon's reaction bothered her. Come to think of it, her difficulty in first meeting Artemus had struck her as odd. "You know, I get the feeling that your boss has some plan in motion." Artemus remained silent. "And he wants to ensure that I won't fuck it up for him. Am I right?" When Klymus failed to answer for the second time, Olivia pulled over to the curb . "Okay. That's it. You're gone. Good-bye."

"What?" Klymus stared at her in confusion.

"If you can't be honest with me, I don't need you around. I can't depend upon you."

Klymus retorted, "What do you expect? I'm a daemon! Heck, I wouldn't even depend to have you around me! Even Artemus is worried that you'll . . ."

Olivia gave the daemon a knowing look. "That I would do . . . what? Screw things up for him? Expose his location?"

A long silent moment followed before Klymus heaved a defeated sigh. "All right! Yes! I am here to keep an eye on you."

"What exactly does Artemus fear?"

"You mean . . . whom." Tersely, Klymus revealed the senior daemon's plans to become the new Source. Apparently, Artemus had escaped from the Stygian Abyss after discovering a prophecy regarding the old Source's death. Not only did Artemus require a certain item to become the new Source, this item happened to be located on a piece of property belonging to one of Cole's clients. "With Belthazor and the Charmed Ones around, his chances of getting that item are slim."

"Why?"

Klymus rolled his eyes. "What do you mean . . .?"

"I can understand why Artemus would be leery of the Charmed Ones," Olivia said. "But why would he fear a fellow daemon? Is Cole . . . this Cole that dangerous or powerful?"

The daemon hesitated. "Well . . . yes." He went on to reveal a fantastic tale in which Cole ended up possessed by the old Source. Unaware of what happened, the Charmed Ones killed the possessed Cole and he ended up in some dimension called the Wasteland. "I don't know how he did it," Klymus continued. "His human ancestry must have saved him from perishing in the Wasteland. But while there, he managed to collect a good number of powers that enabled him to escape. The belief is that when a daemon enters the Wasteland, his or her powers are immediately separated from the body before being consumed by some monster. Belthazor must have avoided being destroyed. And the powers he had collected made him more powerful than ever. More powerful than the old Source. If Artemus is to become the new Source, he would not last a day with Belthazor still alive." He paused.

"And . . .?" Olivia continued. "What else?" Klymus glanced sharply at her. "I can see it in your eyes. There is something else to this story."

Klymus sighed. "There is a prophecy regarding Belthazor . . . and his wife, the other Olivia. Aretemus does not want it to come true."

Olivia snickered. "Prophecy, huh? Looks like Artemus has a lot on his agenda." She shook her head. "I wish I could help, but I have . . ." Her eyes caught sight of a familiar figure and she nearly brought the car to a screeching halt.

"What the hell?" Klymus demanded.

The red-haired warlock barely heard him. Instead, she guided the car into a nearby parking space and switched off the engine. "Did you see the two men standing in the middle of an alley we had just passed?"

"Hardly," Klymus shot back. "What about them?"

Olivia climbed out of the car. So did Klymus. "I had recognized one of them," she answered. The pair walked toward the alley. "His name is Lee Ramos. In my dimension, he was an informant of mine, when I was a cop." The moment they reached the edge of the alley, Olivia held up her hand, signaling the daemon to stop.

"What the hell is this about?" Klymus demanded.

A cold smile curved Olivia's lips. "I've just found a way to get my hands on the Olivia's keys." Both she and the daemon peeked around around the corner and into the alley. They spotted the two men in the middle of some transaction. One of them was a stocky man, with short curly hair. The other possessed long blond hair and a mustache that drooped over a long jaw. "You see the man with the long, blond hair? As soon as I give the signal, kill him. But don't incinerate his body."

Klymus frowned. "What will be the signal?"

"You'll find out. C'mon."

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The warlock entered the alley with daemon close at her heels. "Well, well, well," she cried out, surprising the two men. "If it isn't Lee Ramos!"

The dark-haired man gasped aloud. He quickly tucked his hands inside his jeans pockets. "Hey! Inspector! What brings you here?" he asked nervously.

Olivia approached Ramos. "Looking for you," she coolly replied. Her eyes briefly rested upon the blond man. "Something going on here?"

"Uh . . . nothing," Ramos assured the redhead. "Just . . . ah, ran into an old friend. That's all."

"Hmmmm." Olivia continued to stare at the blond man.

Ramos continued, "What can I do for you?"

Olivia returned her gaze to the informant and smiled. "Just stand there . . . and do nothing." Then in a lightning move, she flung out her hand and sent a stream of fire straight through the informant's chest. A smoldering hole now existed where his heart used to be. Ramos quickly crumpled to the ground.

"Oh shit!" the blond man cried. "He's dead! You just . . ." He gave Olivia a peculiar stare. "Hey lady! What the fuck are you?"

The warlock nodded. A second later, Klymus shoved a dagger into the blond man's chest. The latter joined his colleague in crime on the ground. Once Olivia verified the blond man's death, she searched his jacket and retrieved a cell phone from one of the pockets. "Here," she tossed the phone to the daemon. "It's time to call the police. Dial (415) 706-1239 and ask for Inspector Olivia Turner."

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The witch leaned toward her computer screen and typed in the phrase - MISHEWAL WAPPO. The Yahoo search engine on her computer screen produced a list of web links on the subject. She clicked on the first link. At that moment, the telephone on her desk rang. She answered it. "Inspector Turner, SIU. May I help you?"

"Inspector Turner?" a distraught voice replied. "Are you Lee Ramos' friend?"

Lee Ramos? Olivia forgot about her Internet research project and focused her attention on the call. "Yes, this is . . . Lee's friend. What's wrong?"

The voice continued, "Oh God! Oh God! It's Lee! He's . . . he's dead! Oh God, it's weird! There's a hole in his chest!"

"Hole in his chest?" Olivia demanded, "What do you mean? Who is this?"

"I'm . . . uh, another friend . . . of Lee's. We, uh . . . we were supposed to meet near Powell and California," the voice continued.

Olivia sighed. She knew what this meant. Her informant Lee Ramos and this friend may have been involved in some kind of deal. Lee was known for trading in all kinds of illegal goods. Including drugs. "Again . . . who are you?"

The man answered, "My name is . . . um, Stan Marin."

The name did not strike a familiar chord within Olivia's memories. "And where did you find Lee?"

"In an alley near Powell and California. Look, do I have to stay here?"

Olivia coolly replied, "If you don't want the police searching this city for you . . . yes. I'll be there in a few minutes."

Marin said in a shaky voice, "Uh . . . yeah. Sure. See you." He quickly hung up.

As she slowly returned the phone onto the hook, Olivia wondered if Marin would remain with the body. She doubted it. Then she headed for Darryl's office. "I just received a phone call. One of my informants might be dead. A Lee Ramos."

"Sorry to hear that," Darryl replied. He glanced at Olivia, who remained silent. "What?"

Olivia gave him a meaningful stare. "This Stan Marin claimed that he had found Lee's body in an alley near Powell and California." She paused. "With a hole in his chest."

Darryl sighed. "I knew it had to be something." He stood up and grabbed his trench coat. "Let's go."

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From behind a dumpster, Klymus and Olivia watched a group of uniformed cops, three plainsclothesmen and a few people from the Coroner's office gather around the two bodies. Klymus noticed that one of the plainclothes cops happened to be his companion's doppelganger. "Okay, she's here," he commented. "Now what?"

"Just wait and see," the warlock commented. "If I know me, I'll be drifting away from the group for more clues. Several minutes passed before Olivia Turner drifted away from the rest of the crowd. She walked toward another alley, adjacent to the one where they had left Ramos and his blond companion. "It's about damn time."

The warlock slowly walked away from the dumpster and headed toward her look-a-like. Klymus remained in his spot, as he prepared to witness what promised to be a most interesting encounter.


END OF CHAPTER 8

Friday, November 23, 2012

"ANGEL" RETROSPECTIVE: (5.08) "Destiny"

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"ANGEL" RETROSPECTIVE: (5.08) "Destiny"

One of the most interesting episodes to air on "ANGEL" during its Season Five turned out to be the eighth episode called (5.08) "Destiny". Written by David Fury and Steven S. DeKnight, the episode is considered one of the best in the series. It also marked a relief for many viewers who had become weary of Spike in corporeal form.

"Destiny" begins with a flashback to 1880 London, where a recently-sired William Pratt (yes, that is his surname) meets Angelus for the first time. The latter accepts William into the group that also includes Drusilla and Darla and adds that he looks forward to killing with another man. Angeleus expresses a vow that he and William are "gonna be the best of friends". The two male vampires seal their new friendship with clasped hands burning in the sunlight. One hundred and twenty-three years later, a mysterious package arrives at the Los Angeles Wolfram and Hart offices, addressed to William (now Spike). Harmony Kendall, Angel’s vampire secretary, opens the package, which produces a flash of light. Minutes later, Spike tries to materialize through and discovers that he is corporeal again. It is not long before Eve, the firm’s liaison to the Senior Partners, announces that the whole universe is in turmoil. Spike’s return to corporeal form and existence is messing with the expected course of the Shanshu prophecy, because after dying on the Hellmouth to save the world in the "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" finale, Spike now qualifies as a champion.

When an employee named Sirk, who worked under the absent Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, is questioned for more information on the Shanshu prophecy, he informs them that they did not get everything from the translation. Sirk adds that "The balance will falter until the vampire with a soul drinks from the Cup of Perpetual Torment". In other words, whoever (Spike or Angel) drinks from the cup, that vampire is the one who was destined for the prophecy. And once the champion is decided, the universe will go back to normal. Sirk also adds that the Cup of Perpetual Torment was destroyed in an opera in Death Valley, Nevada. This bit of news leads both Spike and Angel to race to Death Valley in order to find the cup. And the two souled vampires end up battling out to determine which one of them will achieve the Shanshu prophecy. What Angel and Spike fail to discover was that their battle for the prophecy had been planned by Eve and her lover, former Wolfram and Hart attorney, Lindsay MacDonald, to mess with the Senior Partners’ plans for the older vampire.

I might as well say it. "Destiny" was a bloody, intense and brilliant episode. In a small way, this episode reminded me the "BUFFY" finale, (7.22) "Chosen" and Angel’s reaction to the news about Spike possessing a soul. I initially found it odd that Angel would react to the news about Spike’s souled state in such a negative way. Surely he would have been thrilled at the idea of another vampire – especially one he has known for over a century – as a fellow champion. Instead, he reacted with a mild mixture of annoyance and resentment. This attitude carried over in "ANGEL", after Spike reappeared as a ghost at the end of (5.01) "Conviction" . It occurred to me that being the souled champion of the supernatural appealed to Angel’s ego and he did not like the idea of another supernatural being – especially a vampire – raining on his parade. And I am certain that his feelings about Spike played a major part in his reactions.

Then again . . . one only has to look at the flashbacks featured in "Destiny". Not long after welcoming vampire William as a future hunting mate, Angelus made certain that the younger vampire got the message that he was the sole alpha male of the group. And he did this by making certain that William knew that Drusilla was his "property" and no one else’s. And since Drusilla was William’s sire, the latter was also his by extension. I would not be surprised that Angel viewed the role as souled vampire/champion as his alone. It is possible that he viewed Spike as a mere interloper. And Spike’s past history with Buffy – someone Angel viewed as his sole love – probably did not help matters.

As for Spike, he must have harbored a great deal of resentment toward Angel from the moment he could the latter with Drusilla together back in 1880. This resentment probably increased after his relationship with Buffy. After all, the vampire slayer had never declared her feelings for him as she had done about Angel in the past. Despite Angel/Angelus' claim as the alpha male, Spike challenged the former’s claim every chance he could. Remember their confrontation in the Yorkshire caves in one of the flashbacks featured in the "BUFFY" episode, (5.07) "Fool For Love"? It was simply another moment of Spike upsetting Angel’s claim as the superior.

One also had to take in Spike's accusation in "Destiny" that Angelus made him into a monster. On one level, he was right. Although Drusilla had sired Spike, it was Angelus who more or less taught the former how to be a first-class vampire. Angel claimed that Spike always had the ability to be a monster. And he was also right. Angelus alone could not have been responsible for the creation of Spike aka William the Bloody. The darkness within William (even before he became a vampire) played a major part, as well. It seemed as if both vampires were trying to deny their own responsibility in the formation of the "Slayer of Slayers".

Finally, we come to Lindsay MacDonald and Eve’s role in this scenario. I have this feeling that some kind of conflict has been set in motion with the scheming of Lindsey and Eve. I must admit that I was a little surprised to see the former Wolfram and Hart attorney again. But I originally could not understand why he had returned to kick-start this rivalry between Angel and Spike . . . especially since he had willingly put both Angel and the firm behind him back in Season Two’s (2.18) "Dead End". In the latter episode, Lindsay had discovered that he had been chosen to be the new CEO of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart. It is possible that the news of Angel assuming this very position had not only revived his old dislike of the vampire, but resentment toward the Senior Partners for allowing a nemesis to manage their firm.

It is obvious that Lindsay used Eve as a minion for his plans to put Wolfram and Hart off balance. Many fans had not been impressed by Eve as a replacement for the very memorable Lilah Morgan. But in this episode, Eve managed to fool the Fang Gang with an air of innocence that many believed would not have suited Lilah’s personality. She became a more believable adversary for the team. Lindsay and Eve had used a spell to convince the others that the universe was in chaos due to the presence of two vampire "champions". The spell caused blood to leak from Harmony’s eyes, but it had no physical effect on the mortals that worked there . . . except for Charles Gunn. It could be that his "legal upgrade" made him supernaturally vulnerable to the couple’s spell.

The acting was superb in "Destiny". Both James Marsters and David Boreanaz were absolutely fantastic as Spike and Angel. Not only were their verbal interactions sizzled with electricity, but I believe that their superb fight scene may have been one of the best ever featured on both "ANGEL" and "BUFFY". I also have to commend J. August Richards for his portrayal of Gunn in this episode. I am certain that his Charles had fulfilled the fantasies of many by choking Eve. Christian Kane’s return to the series was a sight for my sore eyes. And Sarah Thompson gave her best performance as Eve, since she first joined the cast at the beginning of the season. As for the brief Spike/Harmony sexfest - it was not as bad as I thought it would be. Loved the look that Spike gave Harmony, and how she finally capitulated. Both Marsters and Mercedes McNab proved they had not lost their screen chemistry. In fact, Marsters not only worked well with Boreanaz and McNab, it was great to see him renew his old chemistry with Juliet Landau, who was great as ever as the eccentric Drusilla.

Overall, David Fury and Stephen S. DeKnight wrote a first-rate episode . . . probably one of the best of the series. And their work was handled with care by a superb cast and solid direction from Skip Schoolnik. Two thumbs up for "Destiny"!